February 12, 2014
Science Daily/Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Fear is primal. In the wild, it serves as a protective mechanism, but for humans, fear is more complex. A normal amount keeps us safe. But too much fear, like PTSD, can prevent people from living healthy lives. Researchers are working to understand how the brain translates fear into action. Today, scientists announce the discovery of a new neural circuit that links the site of fear memory with a brain area that controls behavior.
Last year, CSHL Associate Professor Bo Li and his colleagues were able to use new genetic techniques to determine the precise neurons in the central amygdala that control fear memory. His current research exploits new methods to understand how the central amygdala communicates fear memories to the areas of the brain that are responsible for action.
In work published today in The Journal of Neuroscience, Li and his team identify a group of long-range neurons that extend from the central amygdala. These neurons project to an area of the brainstem, known as the midbrain periaqueductal gray (PAG), that controls the fear response.